Colleges Continue Unified Sports Opportunities Despite Challenges

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Colleges Continue Unified Sports Opportunities Despite Challenges

Four Universities Participate in Unified Programming

UCS Kentucky
The University of Kentucky hosted a volleyball clinic and tournament.

Despite the challenges of the past year, Unified Sports activities have continued to flourish on Kentucky campuses. Through collaborations with active student leaders and Intramural Departments, SOKY has offered Unified Sports opportunities at four colleges this school year. Although scaled back to meet COVID safety protocols, we were able to hold small in-person and virtual experiences.

Instead of their normal Unified basketball activities, both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville got creative and found new activities to try that would better meet the guidelines at the time.

UK Intramurals hosted Unified Cornhole and Unified Volleyball. The events provided 18 Unified pairs with the chance to try new activities. Since many of our athletes had never played volleyball, the two-day event was kicked off with a clinic to learn the mechanics of the game. Longtime volunteer and high school volleyball Coach Andrew Hayden led the clinic, which included drills and game play. Ten Unified Pairs enjoyed an afternoon of Cornhole in the Fall, which also ended with a tournament.

UCS Louisville
Louisville students paired with our athletes for a bocce tournament.

Also unable to hold basketball events, UofL Intramurals instead offered Unified Bocce and Unified Human Foosball. Bocce was hosted in the fall and the spring allowing 12 Unified Pairs the chance to experience the sport on campus for the first time. During a short Human Foosball season, 9 athletes and 16 partners got to compete in an activity that was new to everyone and executed much like socially distanced soccer. UofL Intramurals even got in on the Polar Plunge fun by hosting their first-ever mini plunge at their Student Recreation Center fields.

Two more universities hosted their first-ever Unified Experiences this year. Both accomplishing no small feat by starting something entirely new during a pandemic.

EKU Coordinator of Competitive Sports Kyle Reece helped organize Unified Esports events in the EKU Campus Recreation Department.

Eastern Kentucky University hosted several rounds of our first-ever Unified Esports tournament, which allowed 8 Unified Pairs to play 2v2 and 3v3 Rocket League. SOKY athletes were paired with students from the Esports Club on campus. The efforts of EKU allowed us to send a Unified Team of 3 to the NIRSA National Esports Tournament, where they finished in 3rd place overall.

Morehead State University also got their Unified program started by organizing two Unified Fitness Classes and a Unified Bowling experience through the efforts of their Intramural Department. Overall, 4 athletes and 9 partners participated in these activities. Both MSU and EKU are already making plans to continue their Inclusive programming in the next school year.

We cannot wait to see what all our university partners can accomplish in the future, and we are so thankful for their dedication and unwavering efforts to include SOKY athletes in campus recreation, despite the challenges of the last year.

The chance to play Unified Sports on college campuses is a growing trend across the nation bringing new inclusive opportunities to SO athletes. Nearly 300 colleges and universities currently offer some level of Unified programming. Contributing to the trend is the fact many schools are members of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), which partners with Special Olympics North America to offer Unified Sports opportunities at their Regional and National events.

UCS Morehead
Morehead State hosted a Unified fitness class as well as bowling.

Unified Sports at the college level offers a natural transition for students graduating from high schools that participate in the Unified Champion Schools program. Opportunities at the college level are ideally suited towards athletes in the 18-30 year age range, in keeping with the goal of Unified Sports to pair partners and athletes of approximately the same ages.

A huge shoutout to all universities who Choose to Include!

For more information about Unified College and other Unified programs, contact Karen Michalak-Parsley at [email protected] or 502-326-5002.

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